Healthy Little Bodies
It will come as no surprise to some parents that children’s fitness generally declines over the summer holidays. Australian Healthy Weight Week (January 23-30) is a reminder that after the excesses of Christmas, New Year and holidays, it’s important for all of us to try and maintain a healthy weight. With up to 25% of Aussie kids currently overweight or obese, it’s especially important for us parents to help our kids form good eating habits they will take with them into adulthood.
Sydney mum of two, Jen Webster is frequently frustrated by the increasing trend of serving kids nutritionally dubious options like ‘nuggets and chips’ or hotdogs. “At my kids’ birthday parties, I serve things like fruit kebabs, raw veggies and dips, popcorn and home made cupcakes. I find if that’s what I serve, then the kids will eat it. My kids are not always happy with it but I tell them, I don’t care what other people do – this is what you have with us.”
Melbourne dietitian Melanie McGrice from Health-Kick Nutrition & Dietitics says we are all eating bigger portions than we did a generation ago and choosing more high kiloujoule, convenience foods. “People think it’s easier to grab a snack bar than a piece of fruit but this is not the case."
“If you think your child may be overweight, it’s best to have him properly checked by a dietitian who can check his height and weight. If he is overweight, the dietician will work with the whole family to make it a non-stressful experience. We look at how much activity are they doing and where problems might exist in their diet. We don’t put kids on really strict scary diets. We do it in baby steps. Sometimes we might even liaise with teachers at school re canteen menu and activities.”
Sarah Ellery is the PDHPE teacher at Cromer Public School on Sydney’s northern beaches, where she is responsible for teaching the 800+ students there about healthy living and sensible eating.
“I love the idea of kids eating well and enjoying a healthy lifestyle. I emphasise the importance of ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ and explain to the kids that in a societal context, it’s harder to engage in games with your friends [if you are overweight]. Healthy, active kids have plenty of energy to do the things they want to do, like play a game of footy without getting puffed.”
Sarah encourages parents to lead by example, a lesson Jen Webster tries to follow. “My husband, Nick and I believe that if you are out there exercising, kids are more likely to as well. We try to walk to school a few times a week and we all go to the beach together.
“My son would sit on his computer for hours if we let him so I encourage him to come out and practise his basketball or help us with the gardening.”
At Cromer, Sarah Ellery has overseen several initiatives designed to maximise good health: ‘Crunch n Sip’ is a 10-minute break around 10am each day when every child is encouraged to stop work and have some water and some fruit or veggies. Last year, the school ran its own Commonwealth Games when each class competed in fun events and prizes were awarded for the best performing junior and senior classes.
A newly established veggie garden is looked after by students from the Environment Club and will provide produce to the school canteen this year, while other initiatives reward students for exercising regularly and eating daily doses of fruit and veg.
“Primary school is the ideal age to get kids into enjoying sport,” says Sarah. “I notice a huge shift at puberty, where many kids don’t want to get hot and sweaty. But if you can engage them at this age and give them a feeling of enjoyment and an interest in being fit, they are far more likely to want to continue with it.”
By Gill Canning
More than one in five Australian preschoolers is already overweight or obese.
For more information about Australian Healthy Weight Week, healthy tips and activities, visit www.healthyweightweek.com.au
To find a dietitian in your area, visit www.daa.asn.au
Sarah’s Tips for Healthy Kids
- Find a sport your child enjoys and sign them up!
- Identify healthy foods that they like and feed it to them often.
- Join in exercising with your kids – maybe take the dog for a walk or go for a bike ride together.
- Take the time to pack nutritional lunches – and limit lunchbox treats to only one or two per week.
- Don’t give kids treats as a reward for eating their veggies (or whatever they don’t like). This only reinforces the idea that veggies are to be endured, not enjoyed.